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Mabel Carney | Houston St station on the 1 train

Mabel Carney | Houston Street station on the 1 train

First off let me just say that there’s not a ton of readily available information on Mabel Carney. Not even a crappy Wikipedia entry. So I found myself digging through the New York Times and Columbia University digital archives and reading scholarly journal articles in barn burners like “The International Journal of African Historical Studies” and “Historical Studies in Education.”

Here’s what I do know: Most women were not educated before the 1920s but Mabel got a BA in 1917, an MS in 1919 and was offered a full-time faculty appointment as Associate Professor of Rural Education at Teachers College, Columbia University that same year.

At the time, Columbia had a problem with its student population [they wanted to limit Jews] and saw its close proximity to the vibrant intellectual, political, and cultural life of Harlem as both problematic [oh, the poverty!] and promising [oh, the research opportunities!]. There was also an ongoing debate about how to “suitably” educate African Americans: Booker T. Washington wanted to focus on basic literacy and respectable blue color jobs [subservience] and W.E.B. DuBois wanted a liberal arts focus and equal participation in American society broadly [advancement].

Mabel landed on Team DuBois.

She became a pioneer in utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to examining educational and social problems. She was a data driven academic, but her work was guided by personal beliefs and relationships. She grew to become an outspoken critic of systemic inequality, perhaps aided by the “loose cannon” label given by her male colleagues, but was always advocate for the individuals within the system. For her African-Columbia students, she was piggy bank [reparations!], job placement officer and mentor.

Jane Ellen McAllister was the world’s first female African American doctoral candidate in Education. And when she completed the program in 1929, she became the nation’s first black woman to earn an Education Ph.D. Her advisor? None other than Mabel Carney, who died on this day in 1969.

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